Some might see Hedden's idea as directionless musing, but for the writers, directors and actors who are struggling to give a cinematic voice to Generation X, it's the kind of sentiment that speaks volumes. Not only does it touch on the angst that seems to run through this next big demographic thing, but it hints at the complexity of a group that is mightily misunderstood - especially along Madison Avenue.
Says Kirk Souder, a top art director at Stein, Robaire & Helm/Los Angeles whose work includes Ikea ads, the industry is so desperate to compartmentalize things that it has too quickly settled for its own 'fiction' about Generation X. For instance, the image of twenty-somethings as younger, hipper, more cynical versions of baby boomers may fit nicely into marketing surveys, but it's not entirely accurate.
Indeed, the films - which started late last year with Singles, Cameron Crowe's take on the Seattle scene, continued with Bodies and picks up this summer with the small independent offerings Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me and Inside Monkey Zetterland - offer insights that agencies have failed to glean from study groups and statistics. Each explores unique blends of disconnection, dissatisfaction and dysfunction, often in a darkly humorous way. Taken together they provide a primer on Generation X and perhaps the start of a 'new fiction' for agencies.
'It's really difficult to connect to this group,' says Michael Steinberg, director of Bodies, which offers up a single weekend as a microscopic look at life out of sync. 'They've been sold everything. Everything they know is filtered through the media and advertisements. At the same time they are very self-aware.'
Featuring actors Bridget Fonda, Phoebe Cates, Tim Roth and Eric Stoltz, Bodies takes each through a series of wrong turns in their relationships, backlit with a profound sadness that none of their hopes or dreams are likely to be fulfilled.
When Fine Line Features put together its L.A. premiere for Bodies, the filmmakers chose the giant Ikea warehouse in Burbank. The store's cheap style and portability - entire rooms of furniture can be assembled and disassembled with a single Allen wrench - seemed a perfect metaphor for the film, which is all about compromises, transience and life at a discount.
In Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me writer/director Joel Hershman refuses to take the psyche of Generation X so seriously, and instead blends reality and farce in an over-the-top film. 'There is a profound cultural pessimism that's going on,' he says. 'Within that, humor becomes a guilty pleasure.' The film, which mixes actors like Sean Young and Diane Ladd with relative unknowns, has received raves on the festival circuit.
The story follows Eli, played by surfer-model Max Parrish in his first starring role, through his escape from a shotgun wedding to Twinkle, Young's character, and into a depressing Southern California trailer park. Along the way, Hershman takes aim at everything from the concept of family to romance and success. The characters are 'in a constant, absurd turmoil,' he says. 'This movie is about dysfunction, failed idealism and being able to see the humor in it.'
If Hold Me is Generation X as farce, Inside Monkey Zetterland is fantasy and fable mixed with a gritty surrealism. Written by Steven Antin, who also plays lead character Monkey Zetterland, the film is all about moving through chaos. 'There is definitely the element of Generation X and the desensitized youth of America,' says Antin. 'I grew up in the vortex of that and it's terribly interesting to me to write about, but not romanticize.'
For Antin, it's all about clinging to the details of life when the big picture is too much to handle. Monkey features an impressive collection of twentyish actors - Patricia Arquette, Martha Plimpton, Sofia Coppola, Ricki Lake and Debi Mazar - as well as comic Sandra Bernhard and veteran actress Katherine Helmond.
Antin describes Monkey as a fulltime victim of the universe. Unlike everyone else in the film, from his mother to his girlfriend to the bulimic terrorist who lives downstairs, Monkey seems reconciled to his fate. The film also turns a pair of missing curtains into a metaphor for life in the '90s. 'There are all these things that we create a whole mythology about,' says Antin, 'whether it's curtains or cars or houses or clothes. This is an ironic look at all those cliches.'
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)